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President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Friends and colleagues,
Before I begin my address, I would like to draw your attention to the tragic events that happened in our country, here in Yaroslavl.
As you know, a plane crashed at the airport yesterday. Among those who lost their lives were members of the Lokomotiv ice hockey club, a very popular team loved by everyone in Yaroslavl and around the country. Russians and nationals of seven states were killed. Players and coaches were killed. I ask you to honour their memory.
A minute of silence.
It is difficult to make a speech after such a tragedy, but I will do my best. The topic we are discussing at the Yaroslavl forum this year is The Modern State in the Age of Social Diversity. This theme may seem purely academic but only at first glance. We considered if it sounds clear enough in Russian, because its English version is perhaps easier to understand than the Russian. But this subject has absolutely hands-on, practical significance. I would say that the relevance of this subject has been proved by the nature of the debate, which has been very heated and emotional. That is natural.
Most people in our open and interdependent society increasingly often come across people who are manifestly different from them. In the past, several centuries ago, any contacts with people of other nationalities were extremely rare; they were a curiosity. Now, these contacts are constant both in the real and the virtual worlds. People differ in their habits, appearance and political beliefs. They have different religions, cultural attitudes and professions. They have a different social status and incomes and belong to different virtual communities and social networks.
Moreover, the people who live in the same place differ more and more from each other, which used to be impossible to imagine. 21st century economy requires a narrow professional specialisation, greater mobility, increased information sharing and exchange of goods and services, and a more complex system of the division of labour. Such fundamental values as the freedom of choice allow everyone to plan their lives and develop their personalities, to decide who they want to be and how to live. It gives people the right not only to follow traditions – traditions that are characteristic for particular countries or areas – but to live without following a pattern and live in one’s own unique way. That is a major triumph of the modern world.
We must acknowledge that great many people take full advantage of that. Thus, the structure of society has become radically more complex. If in the past the economic and cultural diversity were seen as unique features of several dozen metropolises, where life was very vibrant and vigorous, these days it has penetrated even the smallest towns and areas that are very remote from the epicentres of globalisation.
Social diversity has become a decisive factor in the development of the individual, the group, the nation; it has begun to influence the development of democratic states. It teaches us to coexist and interact with those who are not like us to respect and try to understand those who think and act in ways different from ours. And that is very difficult. The mind of every individual, even the most educated person with the highest IQ, is still standardised in many ways.
We can look at the long list of facts and figures that show rapid growth differences between people and the emergence of new social groups. According to Eurostat data, every tenth person in the European Union was born outside the country where he or she lives. By some estimates, more than half of different jobs in the world simply did not exist 30 years ago.
Here in Russia the number of university majors has increased by 10 times in recent years. Public communication space has been expanding. The number of media outlets has been growing: in 2000 there were about 40,000, and now there are over 80,000.
New technology has brought to the surface social diversity and complexity. The so-called subcultural trends or movements are increasingly influencing the dominant cultures. The Internet allows people not just to be different, but to publicly express their individuality, to display it for all to see, and many are not ready for that.
In the last century, in all the most advanced countries an opinion was considered to be public if it was broadcast by three or maybe four major television channels, several popular radio stations and some newspapers. Today there can be no monopolies. Everyone can create content, absolutely every person who has the wish to do so. You don’t have to be a media mogul, a journalist or an editor-in-chief.
Millions of Internet users influence the emergence of dominant information trends. Moreover, they don’t just influence it but very often they create them and in a way that is paradoxical. Each of them, in theory, has a chance to tell the world something that will change the world or, at least, the situation around them.
The expansion of the so-called social media is also very impressive. Now it is no longer necessary to have intermediaries: people willingly and quickly form groups based on their interests, and there are more and more such interests. These figures are widely known but I will site them anyway because they are very impressive. The Russian social network VKontakte has about 17 million user groups. I stress, these are groups.
Facebook has a billion groups, and that is more than the number of the actual members, which is about 750 million.
The Russian Federation has more than 100,000 registered NGOs. Over the past 10 years their number has increased by a third, and the number of informal groups is innumerable.
Hence social diversity creates not only new opportunities but also new challenges that traditional public institutions are only now learning to cope with. Diversity, discord, disunity of the world make standard administrative procedures more difficult, the procedures that used to be effective under standard conditions.
Ethnic tensions, hate crimes and illegal migration have become irresolvable problems for some nations. Progressive economic stratification, which may have been less evident in the period of economic growth, has lead to acute conflicts between the rich and the poor during the downturn. I believe the extremist class struggle doctrine is being revived in many regions of the world; there are riots and terrorist attacks, and some countries are torn by very real civil wars.
Some see signs of social disintegration and degradation of the social structure in these phenomena. Diversity, which is our theme today, is perceived by them as senseless chaos, the collapse of national unity and social solidarity. That is followed by very primitive appeals to use force to protect traditional culture, morality and so on.
At the same time, there are calls of a completely different nature: to minimise the role of bureaucracy, to allow for social development based solely on the principles of self-organisation, self-regulation and self-government, to eliminate the state altogether from public life.
How should the state respond to this? What should the state be like at a time when, according to a well-known futurist Alvin Toffler, politics has lost its mass appeal and the society is divided into thousands and thousands of contending groups, each of which is fiercely fighting for its own narrow and often fleeting interests?
This is a very important issue for our country. The Russian Federation is an example of unique social, cultural and political diversity. We forget it in our day-to-day lives, even those of us living in Russia, but we must remember this.
We have 180 peoples and ethnic groups living our country, and in addition to our regions and territories, Russia has autonomous areas and republics. We are a multi-faith nation, in the fullest sense of the word.
Indeed, our religious diversity did not result from the arrival of new inhabitants, new citizens. Rather, it has developed traditionally, due to the history of our state’s development. Although the majority of our people belong to the Russian Orthodox faith, we have vast territories that traditionally adhere to Islam, which has been practiced for centuries, and Buddhism.
Everyone is also aware of the problems faced by Russian society. We have been waging a war against separatism and terrorism for many years. Although this enemy is weakened, it has not been fully beaten. It is not destroyed.
Unfortunately, interethnic tension is spreading to more and more places. Domestic migration is mainly flowing from south to north. Many of our citizens from the Caucasus are moving to places traditionally inhabited by ethnic Russians, while the ethnic Russian population in the Caucasus republics is gradually declining. This is leading to negative consequences: ethnic and cultural closed-mindedness in some regions, and the emergence of ethnic tensions in other regions.
The situation in Russia is also compounded by the fact that, as in most nations that went through major transformations during the last century, we have had excessive stratification of population with regard to living standards: the top ten percent receive an income 15 times greater than the bottom ten percent. This is the well-known so-called decile ratio. The wealthiest citizens receive nearly one third of the overall personal income, while our poorest citizens receive just two percent.
Poverty is becoming a powerful catalyst for interethnic conflicts. In particular, xenophobia and intolerance are spreading most rapidly among the poorest social groups – same as in the rest of the world.
I intentionally chose these complex, ambivalent aspects of Russia’s social diversity – particularly interethnic relations and wealth stratification – in order to make this situation clearer and to bring more attention to it. There are less problematic examples as well, which are easier to discuss. But the examples I just gave can be used to judge our state’s true policies, the efficacy of these policies, and the goals that must be set for the near future.
I would like to state clearly that none of the problems, costs, and complications we are facing on the path of our country’s development will force us to abandon our goals. We have always intended to live in a modern, democratic state – a state that is commonly referred to as a free society of free people, living in peace, without violence or poverty. And we are obligated to maintain the integrity of our country, simply because otherwise, we will have no country at all. Either we have Russia as it is today, and suppress all efforts of extremists and terrorists, or we will not have any Russia.
On the other hand, our ethnic diversity is not just a challenge, but an advantage as well. Russia’s historical fate is the fusion of the collective efforts by all peoples who differ in language, religion, culture, and customs. This diversity is precisely that which has allowed us to answer the most difficult questions, find resources, make new intellectual discoveries, and gather the strength to respond to the most problematic issues. Ultimately, this has made Russia a mighty, distinct nation, and perhaps most importantly for our state, since throughout the history of humankind, there have been many examples of various mighty and distinct nations, it is also sustainable.
I would like to cite my respected colleague, President of the Turkish Republic Mr Gul, who said that the differences between us are the wealth that strengthens our unity. I fully agree with him as these words are applicable to our nation as well.
Everyone must certainly adhere to the law, the basic norms of behaviour, and be respectful of other people’s customs. Anyone who commits a crime or does not adhere to these principles when moving to a new location must be punished. The same applies to those who infringe on the rights of minorities.
But ensuring law and order cannot serve as cause for discriminating against members of minority or majority groups on the basis of ethnicity. All of Russia’s ethnic cultures must develop independently, and each citizen must have the opportunity to live where he or she wants, in any region. Otherwise, we will not have a unified nation. And we must understand this.
Legal economic activities of the individuals should also be protected by the state. Every individual in our country must have the chance to receive a high income. The sanctity of private property, regardless of its size, must be guaranteed, even if it frustrates someone.
Long time ago, we already attempted to design a society without wealthy individuals. The outcomes of that social experiment are well-known: it ended in stagnation, poverty and, unfortunately, the collapse of the state. And this did not happen because of any kind of conspiracy, a behind-the-scenes plot or anything like that. We ended up weak and non-competitive all on our own. We will not allow this to happen again, regardless of any appealing populist slogans offered by some politicians.
In my view, the state’s efforts must be concentrated, first and foremost, on overcoming widespread poverty. We have already done much in this respect. Let me remind you that in 1992, one third of our people had an income that put them below the poverty line, and in 2000, when I began to work in the Government, that rate was 29 percent, while by 2010 this share had decreased to just over 12 percent. That is progress.
Still, we cannot leave it at that. Unfortunately, at the beginning of this year a sharp increase in prices on global markets caused the situation to deteriorate. Today, this figure has become higher; it already stands at about 15 percent. This means that we are not fully managing this situation, which indicates that we have problems. Besides, if we are to talk frankly, even people who earn somewhat more than the very minimum nevertheless lead very difficult lives. We understand that these indicators are merely points of reference for whatever countries.
We must not allow poverty to gain the upper hand. We must take measures to help people who find themselves facing hard times due to economic causes. Stimulating production, creating new jobs, increasing salaries and providing targeted social support to low-income individuals will remain a priority for our state in the upcoming years, regardless of the situation. I am certain that this will be a priority for any political force which will be entitled to shape our national governance.
We believe that in order to significantly improve our citizens’ quality of life, what we lack is not some kind of standard, but rather, diversity. We should transform and broaden the narrow raw-materials-based foundation of our well-being, otherwise, we will still be excessively dependent on demand for raw materials, as everyone knows.
Modernising production, implementing new technologies, creating the infrastructure for innovation and forming new businesses should increase labour productivity, workers’ culture, companies’ incomes, the salaries of every individual and the incomes of all Russians. These are broad, general words, but I think we are pursuing the right strategy.
It seems to me that there is a clear answer to the question of what a state must look like in an era of social diversity. This state should not be linear; it should also be diverse and complex – even if that makes it more difficult to govern, it should nevertheless be complex, flexible and smart. It has to have a multi-branch system for communicating with different layers of society, with all social groups, including the smallest ones. If the state fails to see someone, this is not the problem of that small social group, but the problem of the state. The government must understand its citizens, regardless of their culture, ethnicity or faith.
It would seem that these are basic things. Still, we must talk about them, because today, as never before, it is very tempting to begin “tightening the screws” once again – there are always many causes to do so. This is the simplest answer. What shall we do about crime, separatism and poverty? As they used to say back in the day, rally more closely around the state’s leadership, or “tighten the screws.”
That’s not the idea. We cannot limit people’s rights, and we certainly cannot stifle criticism. After all, that is precisely why so-called reactionary or ultraconservative ideas often take the upper hand in politics (in any nation’s politics – we are not an exception here, and neither are other states, in Europe or Asia). Politicians with semi-Nazi ideas have made it into the parliaments of many states, where even a few years ago, nobody would even have said hello to these people. And now, they are a part of public life.
In some places, torture is almost officially allowed. Barriers are being erected at borders, far more grandiose than the infamous Berlin Wall. We are hearing calls to drive out foreigners and suppress various minorities. Let me stress that I am not referring to those countries which are just starting to build their own statehood or their own democracy; I am referring to the most progressive, most developed and most democratic states.
In our nation, we also have a fair share of individuals who do not like this diversity. Even though we are a modern nation, we have people who believe it would be preferable for everyone to follow the official line and, as they say, march on in orderly rows toward the sunny future. I am certain that this is not just unnecessary, but actually very harmful for our country.
I think that the state must follow social trends, rather than falling behind and dragging society down with it. Especially since the nation’s leadership is made up of those same people, with all their insights, mistakes, misconceptions and values. In other words, the state authorities must adjust to modern life, be adequate, care for and promote social diversity. What should we do to achieve this?
First of all, we have to increase financial and information support for the work of nongovernmental organisations of all kinds, at all levels.
Second, we are to assist people in gaining access to new, independent sources of information. This includes stimulating the development of digital television and broadband Internet. You know, I supervise this personally and find it is extremely important for our country. Indeed, we have nearly digitally covered our large nation, but we have not done this to a sufficient degree.
Third, it is imperative that we improve the education and science systems, encouraging international cooperation in innovation and supporting the spirit of unimpeded creativity in our universities.
Fourth, we must develop all – without exception – traditional, and at the same time, modern cultures that exist among our peoples.
And finally, something that is relevant with regard to the upcoming parliamentary elections: Article 13 of our nation’s Constitution stipulates the principle of ideological and political diversity. In recent years, we have made electoral legislation more sensitive to this principle.
Parliamentary parties, as you know, received equal opportunities to speak on national television. The electoral threshold for parties to be accepted into the State Duma has been reduced. As I already said, this is the unflinching and gradual modernisation of our political system. In my view, that is exactly what we need.
Many people disagree with me. This, too, is normal: some say that we are to do everything very quickly – only then will we achieve results. That’s one view.
There is another view: it’s better not to touch anything at all, because overall, things are not too bad in our nation: we have decent social support for political institutions, we have an overall decent situation with regard to our economy, so it’s better not to meddle; what’s most important is not to do any harm. This is also a short-sighted position. We must develop, but we must do so harmoniously and gradually.
A sophisticated society with many groups and centres of influence requires further decentralisation on our part, transferring certain governance functions to social organisations and responsibilities at the highest level to the regional and municipal levels. This is a vector for the development of the Russian state. It is a clear vector of development for most of the world’s countries as well.
In conclusion, I would like to say this. We are joined by political and public figures, major scientists, NGO representatives and journalists. I sincerely thank you for participating in our forum’s activities. Our forum has perhaps become another link in the global system of feedback formed throughout our planet.
This forum, like all other forums of this kind, is first and foremost an attempt to better hear one another, to understand one another. And our forum is another manifestation of diversity in our thinking. That is precisely why humanity has new opportunities. In any case, I am convinced of this.
Thank you very much. Thank you for joining us today at this forum, especially given the tragic events that have befallen our nation.